Monday, July 24, 2000

In/Exhale - January 26, 2001 - Part II

January 26, 2001 - Part II

Kai always kept the apartment sweltering when Jon wasn’t home, and it was proof that Jon made a good income that he could afford a thermostat in the 70s even in the depth of winter. But it also meant David was sweating through his layers, so as he stepped out of Kai’s room, he peeled off his outer sweatshirt and T-shirt, leaving only a single Tee beneath. One of his custom designs.
Renee was in the kitchen, pouring some coffee--perhaps she was just topping off her previous cup. She must have heard David this time, because she turned with a radiant smile, probably expecting Kai. Her expression dimmed when she saw David instead, though she kept her countenance friendly, and not in a forced way, either. She wasn’t David’s type--though she was clearly Kai’s in every way except height--but he could appreciate her delicate, non-Midwestern beauty. David could tell immediately why--at least on the surface--Kai had become so enchanted with her so quickly.
Renee pointed to her mug. “You want?
David shook his head. He loved that Kai had taught her to sign, and that she evidently was making a genuine effort to learn. Even though she and Kai had been separated for months except for weekly sessions with Dr. Miller, she must have continued to study on her own. Yes, she was a beginner, but there hadn’t been nearly the awkward fumbling he usually encountered with hearing people, even those who were learning to sign. Without knowing much about her first-hand, that automatically made David like her.
She seemed to notice his shirt for the first time, and chuckled when she finished reading it. It said, in bold letters, IF A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS, WHY DON’T YOU SIGN?
You like?
She nodded.
He gestured with his thumb to the back, and turned around. Gave her time to check it out. The back said the same as the front, but in ASL. Handshapes that essentially said, “QUOTE PICTURE EQUAL THOUSAND WORD. YOU SIGN WHY NOT?” David turned back around. “You want one? I’ll make you one too.
Renee seemed surprised. “You made that?
David nodded. “Kai has many shirts I’ve made for him.” Then David stopped himself. This was the first time Renee had really gotten to see Kai, outside of structured sessions with his psychiatrist, and it might be a sore subject for her if he took it any further. Of course she hadn’t seen the shirts David had made for Kai--she’d barely even seen Kai, and David had to fight with him to wear them since they were all actually in his size instead of two too large. “Anyway,” David said, hoping maybe she hadn’t even fully caught what he’d said. “Tell me your size and I’ll make you a few different ones.
Renee was scrutinizing him, obviously not entirely understanding.
David tried again, signing more slowly and clearly. “You tell me your size,” David said, then reached back and jerked his shirt’s tag a few times. “S-I-Z-E?”
“Oh, size!” Renee said out loud, her face lighting up with realization. “XS?” She signed it like a question, as if she weren’t sure if she were doing it right.
He nodded. Extra small. Probably what he would have guessed. She was tiny. “I will make shirts for you.” David waited for an indication she understood.
She nodded. “Thank you.
An awkward moment passed in which Renee absently stirred her coffee and smiled, clearly not sure what to say or do next. She really was adorable, and David could definitely see why Kai liked her.
Remembering she was a beginner, David made sure to sign slowly and clearly, using a lot of gesturing to tell her he was going to make Kai some tea and a sandwich, and perhaps heat some food up for himself. He finished by asking her if she wanted anything.
She shook her head, pointed to her mug, and signed, “I’m fine.”
David nodded as he snagged the kettle and began filling it with water. He turned on the stove and set the kettle to boiling, figuring he didn’t need to watch it so carefully since Renee would probably tell him--or take it off the heat--as soon as it began to whistle. Kai had been drinking a lot of tea lately to try to calm his stomach, and more than once David had gotten distracted or forgotten about the kettle (he personally did not drink tea), so it would apparently be screeching for minutes before he noticed or Kai came barreling in, pissed off at the noise. “How does Megan live with you?” Kai had asked angrily the other day. David had merely shrugged. “She grew up in a Deaf family. Megan could sleep through an F-5 tornado sweeping through a glass factory.” Kai hadn’t found that funny. As a matter of fact, Kai hadn’t found a lot of things amusing lately, and he’d been especially sullen and irritable. David knew it was his illness, but David desperately wanted his friend back.
For a moment, Renee merely watched David as he set up Kai’s tea and started prepping his sandwich. After a moment, though, she tapped his arm to draw his attention.
She pointed to the fridge, then off toward Kai’s room, then caught herself and used his namesign, then signed “COOK, COOK, COOK” several times, followed by a “WHY?” She could have been asking--albeit incorrectly--why he was making something for Kai if the fridge was full. However, he figured what she probably wanted to know--though she hadn’t signed that part--was if Kai struggled to eat so much, why did he cook enough to fill the fridge? And perhaps that was with the added implication that, since she saw him making Kai a sandwich, Kai obviously wasn’t eating what he was cooking.
David wiped his hands on a towel since he needed to use both so Renee could more easily understand him. He pointed toward Kai’s room, which they’d already established represented “Kai” since he wasn’t present. “When Kai’s nervous, he needs to keep busy,” David attempted to explain with slow, clear signs. Renee didn’t seem to understand the sign “BUSY,” so David tried to explain it. He thought for a moment, then signed, “DO” several times in a horizontal circle, to indicate constant activity over time, then pointed to his head and acted like he was turning a key, suggesting shutting off his mind. He signed “BUSY” again, then fingerspelled it.
“Oooh,” David read off Renee’s lips. She nodded enthusiastically. “Kai cooks to stay busy.” She used a sign for “stay,” which confused David initially--how could you “stay” if you were busy?--but he knew English well enough at this point that he gleaned her meaning. The important thing was she understood what he meant.
It’s weird that he cooks so much when he can hardly eat,” David said, though he signed it like, “WEIRD, WHY?” He pointed in Kai’s direction. “COOK COOK COOK COOK COOK.” Then he pointed to indicate Kai again, then acted like he was eating, but with great reluctance, looking sick, his mouth pursed like he was being forced to eat and trying to refuse the food, even turning his head away to try to avoid his fingers hitting his lips in the “EAT” handshape. David shrugged.
Renee was nodding to signal she understood.
Maybe Kai thinks if he cooks enough he’ll find something he can eat. I don’t know.” David signed slowly and clearly, again showing Kai cooking repeatedly, then his face lighting up as he seemed to “find” the dish that he could eat, plucking it up and eating it, patting his belly with a relieved smile.
Renee paused for a moment, as if she were trying to think what to say. She waved her hand back on the side of her head, the indicator of past, and then pointed toward Kai, then signed “EAT,” then “NOT” while shaking her head, her eyebrows raised. A question. But her face immediately scrunched up, and he read, “That’s not right,” off her lips. She was evidently frustrated.
David had his suspicions about what Renee was trying to ask, though. He held up a hand to signal it was OK, and for her to be patient. “You want to know if Kai eats everyday?
Renee nodded, waving her hand. She tried again. “I know now, for Kai, eating . . . is hard. A struggle. Throwing up a lot? He’s skinny now?” She was punctuating her statements as questions, as if she weren’t sure if she were saying what she wanted to say correctly.
David got the gist. “He’s better. And Jon and I watch him. And he’s trying,” David signed with emphasis, to show how hard Kai really did try every day to eat properly and to keep his food down. “But Kai has always struggled with food. That’s why I was so surprised when I saw him again and he had bulked up so much,” David said, puffing out his cheeks and holding out his arms to illustrate his point. “Just be firm, but patient with him about food. He’ll be OK.
David had just shoved some of the food in the microwave--part of a lasagna, with some kind of side dish that smelled awesome even if David couldn’t tell what it was other than it was more green than he normally consumed on a yearly basis--when he saw something reflected in the glass, and a subtle movement in his peripheral vision. He turned his head and observed Renee standing at the counter, holding onto its edge to push herself up onto her tiptoes, and though he couldn’t see her face because of the angle and her hair, he knew she was beaming, or at least had lit up like a Christmas tree, because Kai had finally emerged from his bedroom. He was smiling back at her, but even from this distance, David could tell he wasn’t even close to being OK, not really, but he obviously wanted to spend time with Renee. Under other circumstances, David would have teased Kai relentlessly about the small, besotted smile that graced his face no matter how tired his eyes were.
After a moment, Kai glanced David’s way. David frowned subtly, darted his eyes to the left a couple times, part of their secret, no-hands communication they’d developed growing up. “You look like you’re in pain,” the eye-dart said. Then David raised his brows, which asked, “Are you?
Kai wrinkled his nose, then stuck his tongue out at the bottom of each corner of his mouth, alternating. “Yeah. My hips.” Without any other communication, Kai shuffled to the dining table and sank into a chair. Moments later, Renee was delivering his tea and sandwich; she’d apparently forgotten about her own coffee.
Angled so he could see the microwave with one eye while still casually observing the dining area, David watched the two lovers for a moment. They were holding hands on the table, apparently talking to each other, and David saw Kai smile subtly and nod, and Renee reached up to push some of his hair away from his face, cradling her hand against his cheek. To his surprise, David saw Kai’s shoulders relax, some of the tension he’d kept even after leaving his room melt away as he leaned into her touch. The haunted, exhausted look of earlier had fled Kai’s eyes, and now he was staring back at Renee as if she were everything. His light at the end of a long, arduous, dark tunnel. It struck David now, more than ever, more than any single word Kai had signed over the past few weeks, that his friend was in love. The real thing, too.
It made David smile faintly to himself, glad to see it, though he’d never admit it, quickly stifling the smile into a more pensive look in case anyone happened to glance his way. Kai needed someone; he always had, and if the past few weeks hadn’t scared Renee away yet, if she could return that same besotted smile and forget everything but Kai when he re-entered a room. . . . Maybe she was the one Kai had been searching for his whole life, even if he hadn’t realized it.


“How have you never played Monopoly before?” Renee said, laughing. Kai had finished his tea and managed to eat a few bites of his sandwich, promising David he’d eat the whole thing before they left.
Kai interpreted for David after a quick check to see if his friend wanted him to, then replied, “System kids get reject toys, and the rejects of the rejects--the CH kids--get just that.
David nodded, chiming in, “Most of the toys we got were broken beyond repair, like dolls missing limbs--how fitting! some thought--or cars without wheels. The ‘board games’ we got were basically just that--the board,” David said, drawing the board in the air and then “closing it” together with his hands, like a book, to illustrate what he was talking about.
Kai glanced at Renee to see if she’d understood; considering how little time she’d spent learning, and how it’d mostly been from seeing him sign, he was impressed by how much she’d retained and could comprehend, but she looked a little lost, so he interpreted for her.
I’m sorry,” Renee said with such sincerity it made Kai feel this strange warmth inside him, made him more determined to be the man she deserved rather than the one he actually was. Even if Dr. Miller told him that type of thinking wasn’t healthy.
David and Kai both shrugged. “We used to make up our own games with what we had,” Kai explained, signing clearly and slowly and mouthing the words to help Renee understand. “With the Monopoly board,” he said, pointing to the box since he couldn’t count on her catching the fingerspelling, “we had quite a few games. But Deaf/Hearing was our favorite.
David smiled, shaking one hand. “Oh, man. I had almost forgotten about that!
Renee perked up. “Tell me about it.
Kai sighed. “It was a stupid game. We were just kids. Bored kids with nothing to do and nothing to play with.
Renee deflated a little.
David whacked Kai’s shoulder, hard. “It wasn’t stupid. We both loved that game. It’s no stupider than real Monopoly.
Kai rubbed his arm, glared at David, who grinned at him the way he used to when they were kids, his expression saying, You deserved that. Kai’s face melted into rolled eyes as he shook his head, a faint smile slipping onto his face. They had loved that game. It was something they could play together even if Kai wasn’t feeling well. “We had some play money, from the various copies of Monopoly, plus some other games, and so we’d use that--
--Sometimes real money, too, when we had it--
Kai nodded. “We’d taken slips of paper and written ‘Deaf’ or ‘Hearing’ on them, and slipped those under each property on the board so you couldn’t see the words. We used coins for our player pieces, and would flip to see who was Deaf and who was Hearing.
Heads was Deaf, tails, hearing,” David interjected. “Deaf always went first.
Then we’d use dice if we had them, which we usually didn’t. A spinner if we could raid one from another game. Or a makeshift one we made. When you landed on a property, you had to guess if it was Deaf or Hearing. Then you looked at the paper. If you guessed right, you kept it, marking the property on the paper. If you guessed wrong, you put the paper back and the next person went.
“So . . . there was like a Memory component to the game?”
David read Renee’s lips, confirming one of the words with Kai before nodding. “Yeah. Once someone ‘owned’ the property, you had to pay them if you landed on it. If you were the Deaf player and you landed on a hearing property, you paid double. If you landed on a Deaf property, you didn’t pay.
Deaf take care of their own,” Kai explained a little sadly, “and hearing often treat Deaf poorly.
David sensed Kai’s rapidly down-shifting mood. “Hey, you’ll always be one of us.
I’m not one of anything,” Kai signed, suddenly desperate to be away from both of them, to climb into bed and curl up and sleep for days. He sighed heavily. “Maybe this was a bad idea.” Kai pressed his palms to the table to push himself to his feet, but David stopped him with a hand on his arm. Kai tried to jerk away, his pulse racing, but David held firm, a steady, even, I’m-not-afraid-of-you glare that told Kai to stay put.
Renee watched them both nervously.
Don’t do this to me, Kai’s eyes said, desperate, though he wasn’t physically fighting David at the moment.
Stop running, David said back without words or signs. Think about Renee, he added, darting his gaze momentarily toward her.
Kai followed David’s gaze and deflated. His pulse was still jumping, but he forced himself to take a few slow, steady breaths, relieved he hadn’t flashed back or gone full panic. A sign of progress? Or just the Xanax he’d taken earlier doing its job? He took a few more shuddering deep breaths, felt his body relaxing subtly, though he still felt the urge to flee. To not let Renee see how truly crazy he was.
“If--I can go . . . if that’s what you want,” Renee stuttered.
Kai sighed heavily, pushed some hair off his face. He should cut it. It was getting unruly. “This is me with my walls down, Re,” Kai admitted somewhat reluctantly. “I’m a fucking mess. I’m sorry.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “But I’d like you to stay. If you want to.”
Renee looked from Kai to David and back to Kai before nodding. “I want to stay. How do you win Deaf/Hearing?"
Kai grunted, but didn't reply.
"You can only win if you're hearing," David answered.
This time, it was Kai who whacked his friend on the shoulder. "He's being facetious. Whoever had the most properties/money when we got bored of playing, usually."
Or we ran out of money.” David laughed. “Just like real life!
Kai rolled his eyes.
Can we play that?
Kai shook his head. “We don't have the papers, plus David cheats, and you need an even number of people.” That went over Re's head, so Kai repeated himself in English. “I'd prefer to play something else anyway.
David agreed heartily, apparently not perturbed by the English that had passed between Kai and Renee. “Trivial Pursuit?” David pointed to the box. “I used to kick ass at that in college.
I don't want to have to think.
Uno?” Renee suggested, holding up what looked like a red box of cards.
David took it from her, examining it. “How do you play?
“Uh,” Renee began, flushing slightly, perhaps worried she'd hit her signing limit.
It’s OK. Kai needs simple words for his simple brain.
Kai shoved David good naturedly, “Fuck you.


Renee watched David and Kai bickering, shoving each other and acting like kids, hurling what had to be insults, though she didn’t catch much of their signing. She discerned most of the signs were expletives, including what she was pretty sure meant “asshole” and another that involved both hands with only middle fingers standing up, thrown at each other that could only mean “fuck off.”
Still, it was interesting to see Kai like this; he didn’t seem to mind David touching him, and although it was mostly the violent horsing around she’d seen before between her brothers (when they weren’t legitimately at each others’ throats), it did make her a little jealous. It had taken weeks and a few special sessions with Kai’s psychiatrist to get Kai to the point where he even felt safe being alone with her again, and yet he didn’t seem to have any issues with David. She tried not to let it bother her, though, especially since with every insult and fake punch Kai’s mood lightened considerably, until, after several minutes had passed, they were both breathing heavily, rubbing their shoulders and laughing.
Kai was laughing. Actually laughing. Seeing him smiling again had been achievement enough, but seeing his face lighting up as he laughed warmed Renee from the inside out.
Renee slapped the table to get their attentions. Kai turned first, his hair a messy tangle scattered across his face, his cheeks flushed, and his eyes bright for the first time since the morning she’d left him months ago for Thanksgiving. Suddenly, all jealously fled. Kai had mentioned David had been spending a lot of time with him over the past few weeks, and her small conversation in the kitchen with him had revealed that David really was taking care of Kai in a way he wouldn’t allow her to yet. If David would help bring back the Kai who she'd seen playing with the kids at County House on Halloween, or who would sing for her in her kitchen, or who would allow her to see him, lying naked and sated beside her in bed, then she’d thank God for him.
Are you two going to play with each other or are we going to play the game?” Renee asked, feeling herself blush. She crossed her arms and mimed like they were jerking each other off before signing the more sedate “PLAY GAME.”
Kai seemed shocked to see Renee sign that, but David laughed loudly. “Your girlfriend is hilarious. I like her.
Kai smiled then, slightly shy, but one of the biggest grins she’d seen out of him in weeks, and he reached for her hand with one of his, using his other to sign, “I like her, too.


Over the next several hours, they played various games together, Kai relaxing gradually with every passing minute, and Renee saw a glimmer of the man she’d fallen in love with as he laughed and made jokes, and in the longing, misty-eyed glances he’d occasionally cast her way when he thought she and David weren’t looking. David, for his part, was a blast, and she was glad to have finally met him. He went out of his way, for the most part, to make sure she could understand his signing, and after awhile she found she saw more and more of what he was saying instinctively, without thinking or having to rely on Kai to interpret. She grew more confident in her own signing, too, since David or Kai would correct her when she made a mistake but never in a way that made her feel inadequate or stupid. For her first real, extended conversation with a Deaf person, she thought it had all gone pretty well.
Kai had even managed to eat most of his sandwich, little by little, while David made a huge dent in the fridge. Renee had thought JP ate a lot, but that was nothing in comparison to David.
In fact, they were taking a short break so that David could restock, making some fresh coffee for Renee and tea for Kai while he heated some more food for himself, leaving her and Kai alone for the first time since he’d arrived.
Kai crooked his finger at her, beckoning her closer. “Have you had fun?”
Renee nodded, smiling as she rose and walked around the table until she was standing beside him. With him sitting and her standing, it made her think of him in his chair, and the last time they’d been in a similar position. How he’d sat her on the tabletop and pulled her pants and underwear aside, and . . . She sighed softly at the memory, wondering how long it would be before either of them would feel comfortable enough to do anything like that again.
“I’d like to kiss you,” Kai said shyly. She’d realized over the past couple of weeks that Kai was actually naturally incredibly shy, almost uncertain, although it could have also been his still dealing with everything that had happened at the end of last year. Still, from what she’d caught over the time she’d known him, the subtle glimmers of Kai beneath his layers of veneer, she’d seen inklings that he wasn’t always the confident person he pretended to be. She knew he saw this hesitancy as weakness, but she found it incredibly endearing, and it only made her love him more that it existed and he was letting her see him like this--without his walls, as he’d put it earlier.
Renee’s heart skipped a beat. They hadn’t kissed since she’d left for Thanksgiving, though she’d dreamed about it, remembering what a good kisser he was, how he’d snagged her with that very first one at Nancy’s Cafe. She wanted nothing more than to climb into his lap right now, feel his strong arms envelope her, and lock lips until they were both panting for breath. She didn’t even care that David was only a few feet away. She’d done her best to go at the snail’s pace that Kai needed, but hardly being able to touch him had been almost as painful as not seeing him at all.
“Are you sure?”
Kai misread her hesitation, his expression shuttering almost immediately, disappointment heavy in the way his shoulders fell and some of his tension returned. “If you don’t want to. . . . I mean, if you just want to be friends after all, I mean, I totally understand. . . .” Kai was trying to quickly pull up his barriers again, but she could see how close to breaking he was.
She shook her head, reached for him, stopping short of touching his cheek, waiting for his permission. A small nod and her fingers grazed his skin, tracing up the subtle stubble that tickled her fingertips as she moved up along his sideburn and eased her fingers into his hair, so soft and silken. Cradling the side of his face, she tilted it up toward her. They stared into each others’ eyes for a long moment, Kai’s lips parting, his irises such a brilliant, beautiful blue she thought she’d fall into them if she leaned forward just a little more. His hand found her forearm, caressing it gently, subtly urging her toward him.
A sly smile slipped onto her face; she inhaled and leaned in, pressing her lips to his. They both sighed at the touch; even this simple, chaste kiss flooded her body with electricity. Nothing ever felt so right as being with Kai; no matter how difficult things might be, she knew she could never have anything with someone else like what she had with him.
He drew back after what had to be only seconds but had felt like an eternity, his eyelids heavy. He hummed in appreciation, but said nothing, smoothing one long thumb on the delicate angle of her wrist. “Kiss me again?”
Renee smiled as she obliged him, this kiss deeper and more passionate than the first, Kai abandoning his reservations as he kissed her back the way she remembered he always had, with an intense fire that had him pulling her into his lap and pressing her toward him as if nothing had passed between them, as if Renee had stayed back in November and they hadn’t lost any time. They kissed like this long and hard, hands exploring each other in a way Renee had worried wouldn’t happen again, both of them fighting for breath but not willing to break the kiss.
Renee felt dampness against her cheek and finally pulled back, realizing Kai was crying, his eyes darting away from her in shame before he took a deep breath and met her gaze.
“This is real, right?” he whispered, his voice trembling, gliding his fingers over her cheek as if to feel every element of her face, almost like a blind person trying to discern the contours through touch. “Please tell me this is real.”
Renee nodded, pressed her lips to each of his cheekbones, right below his eyes, kissing away his tears. “This is real. You and me, right here, right now, as long as you’ll have me. I’m not going anywhere. I love you, Kai.”
Kai’s eyes shimmered and he shook his head. “Don’t say that if you don’t mean it, please,” he pleaded. “Don’t say that because you think that’s what I want to hear.”
She felt him trembling. “Shh,” she soothed, smoothing his hair, tucking the long strands behind his ears tenderly. “It’s true. It’s real, Kai. I realized it weeks ago, over Thanksgiving. I’ve wanted to tell you ever since.”
Kai was breathing heavily, shaking more noticeably. He had his eyes tightly shut, trying to keep himself under control, but didn’t seem to be succeeding. He gently but firmly shoved her to hint that she should get out of his lap, which she did. “Get David. Tell him I need another Xanax.”
“Uh. How--how do you spell that?” Was this the panic attacks that Kai and Jon had told her about but she’d never witnessed?
Kai let out a strange sound, not quite frustrated, scared, almost. “White. Tablets. Three-scored. David knows.” Kai was gasping for air. He fingerspelled the name for her, but it was too rapid to make out. “Re. Please.” His voice was becoming more desperate, his breathing more ragged.
Renee was trying not to panic herself as Kai began to wheeze, shaking and struggling for air. Fortunately, David must have seen or sensed something was wrong, because he nodded at her briefly before disappearing--to her surprise--into Jon’s room.
Renee had no idea what to do. Kai was gasping for breath, his entire body shaking, his hands clutching the front of his jeans as he leaned forward. Kai had warned her, back at the start of the year, when she’d first had a chance to see him in a supervised visit with Jon, that if he was panicking, she should stay away. But she wanted to help him. She just didn’t know how.
While she was still debating what she could do, David re-emerged from Jon’s room, jogging up to Kai and forcing something into his mouth. He kept one hand on Kai’s shoulder and the other on Kai’s chest. Foolishly, Renee had expected the drugs to work immediately, but they didn’t. For several more minutes, Kai shook and sweated and panted and gasped, but finally, his breathing and body began to calm.
David stepped away as Kai sank back into his chair, looking completely drained, still recovering.
David signed a few things Renee couldn’t see, and Kai nodded or shook his head weakly in response.
Renee felt vaguely as if she didn’t belong, as if she’d wandered into an OR during surgery and was not only out of place but useless and unwanted. And even though she knew Kai’s panic attacks often didn’t have triggers, that they usually occurred without warning, it hurt knowing that this one had happened right after she’d told him she loved him. A secret she’d kept with her for months. She wondered if maybe she should just sneak out, give Kai the space he evidently needed. Or would he see that as her running away from him?
David beckoned her over.
Kai was trying to breathe slowly and deeply, pushing his fingers through his hair, holding his bangs off his face. He was paler than normal, still trembling subtly, completely worn out. He tried to smile wanly, but failed. “Now you know what a panic attack looks like,” Kai signed and spoke. He looked like he was barely keeping himself upright.
David gently laid a hand on Kai’s shoulder, then, when Kai didn’t flinch, squeezed and disappeared into Kai’s bedroom.
Renee hesitantly stepped forward. Kai hadn’t flashed back, but other than that, this was what he’d warned her about, what she’d promised him she could handle, made real. It didn’t change her feelings for him, but she still had no idea what to do. Should she pretend nothing happened? Try to comfort him?
Now that David was gone, Kai reached down with one hand and gripped the seat, as if to keep himself upright, and extended the other toward her. He sighed heavily, but smiled faintly when she took his hand, pulling her toward him until he wrapped his arms around her, laying his cheek against her stomach.
He laughed, but it seemed forced. “You admit you love me and I have a panic attack. Figures.” He clung to her, sighing softly. “You can still change your mind. I’ll understand,” he said, looking up at her, his chin still touching the edge of her ribs.
She worked her fingers through his hair over and over, listening to his breathing grow slower and more relaxed as she did so. “You don’t tell someone you love them and take it back, Kai,” she said semi-teasingly.
He barked out a short laugh, shook his head and pulled back, studying her eyes. “Why?”
She let out her own short, sharp bite of sound. “Because that’s a horrible thing to do? To mess with someone’s emotions like that?”
Kai inhaled sharply, as if his breath had been cut off, looking at her, his eyes unreadably full of emotion. “I meant, why do you love me? How can you?”
Renee eased her finger under Kai’s chin, lifting his head up toward her. “Because you’re you, Kai. And even with everything, I wouldn’t change my mind even if I could.”
Before Renee or Kai could say anything else, David emerged, pushing Kai’s wheelchair. Kai pulled away from her then, focused on his friend. They seemed to be communicating through only their facial expressions, and finally, Kai thanked him and asked him to bring his chair closer.
I don’t want you guys to go, but I’m exhausted,” Kai admitted. His lids were heavy. A combination of the drugs and the panic attack, Renee presumed. He transferred, not nearly as smoothly as she'd seen him move before.
Are you going to lie down?” Renee asked, hoping she’d signed it right.
Kai nodded. “I need to. I’m falling asleep.
I could lie with you. Or sit next to you.
Kai glanced up at David for a minute, and she thought maybe there was more of that facial communication. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. It’s not that I don’t want it--” Kai sighed heavily, dropping his hands, looking guilty.
No, no, I understand,” Renee said. “I’ll stay and talk to David, if that’s OK. And if you wake up before I need to go, great. If not, I’ll see you Monday?” Classes started in a few days, and Kai had already told her if today went well, he’d like to bum a ride from her.
Kai smiled. Nodded. He signaled for David by waving his hand. “Don’t let me sleep more than an hour,” Kai signed to David, or at least that’s how Renee interpreted it in her mind. What Kai really said was more about his sleeping, then more than an hour passing, then indicating David coming in and shaking him awake.
David nodded. He signed something rapidly and tightly that Renee couldn’t make out, laughing.
Kai rolled his eyes. Noticed Renee was lost and interpreted, “He says not to blame him if I have no more secrets when I wake up.”
Renee shook her head. “Feel better.” She leaned in a bit, lips pursed, as if to kiss him, giving him a chance to push her away or roll backwards, but he didn’t, meeting her in a short, chaste peck.
“Thank you, Re,” Kai said, his face uncharacteristically open. He sighed softly, then turned and disappeared into his room.



  1. Wow that was beautiful. Renee is so sweet understanding. Please don't stop writing!

  2. I love this. So sweet to see them both taking incremental steps and carefully rebuilding their relationship. I also like seeing more of David, and watching how he's able to interact with Kai in a way that no one else really can.

    Can't wait to read more—and I'm looking forward to seeing how Kai & Jon's relationship has evolved since we last saw them together.

  3. And, for the love of all that is holy, please don't stop posting! If you've ever feeling down about yourself or your writing, give me a yell and I will gush all over you >.<

  4. I'm so glad he's accepting her again and I really like David. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Incredible piece of writing, showing the interplay of your characters and their relationship toward each other. Simply brilliant!

  6. A chapter beautifully written! Thank you so much!